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A family name fades away

For 67 years, Deovlet and Sons sold furniture at 1660 Pine Street.


It won’t be long now before the fading neon sign proclaiming Deovlet and Sons Furniture on the shuttered storefront at 1660 Pine Street gives way to the wrecking ball and a pair of condominium towers begins to rise. But for 67 years, Deovlet and Sons — known as “the Friendly Furniture Folks” — served thousands of neighborhood residents from its one and only location between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.
Benjamin “Pops” Deovlet and his two sons, Philip and Robert, opened the furniture store in 1938. Pops died in 1972. But the sons continued to operate the business until they were well into their 80s. The cost of seismically strengthening the brick buildings finally forced them to close the store in November 2005.

According to Robert Deovlet’s daughter, Roberta Wackler, the family bought the original building in 1929 for $19,000 — not to sell furniture, but to sell dried fruit. The fruit was shipped in from Fresno and dried in the building with the help of a furnace installed on the third floor. It was packed into wooden crates and shipped all over the country and abroad. As the rising cost of fruit made their business less profitable, the family decided to try something new.

Pops and his two sons opened the Yellow Pages to “fruit” and found that “furniture” was the next alphabetical listing. So they decided to go into the furniture business.

Robert Deovlet demonstrates the latest in stoves during the store’s early years.

Deovlet and Sons Furniture served generations of San Franciscans and others throughout the Bay Area. The Deovlets supplied appliances for many homes and apartment buildings in the neighborhood, with free delivery, negotiable prices and, as promised, friendly service. For all of the 67 years they ran the store, Phil and Bob Deovlet were the only salesmen. They also did the accounting and billing, all on handwritten records.

Phil said shortly before the store closed that Bob at one point had wanted to retire, but Phil talked him out of it by saying, “If you retire you will die.”

Pops Deovlet immigrated from Armenia in 1908 and initially settled in Fresno’s Armenian farming community. In 1914 he married Rose Mahdesian, who had immigrated from Armenia in 1904. Sons Philip and Robert were born in Fresno.

After moving to San Francisco, the family joined the Bethel Armenian Presbyterian Church, which met in the Victorian at 2409 Washington Street, now a Seventh Day Adventist Church. When that church closed in 1957, the entire Deovlet family joined Calvary Presbyterian Church, sometimes filling three pews in the balcony on Sunday mornings. Phil was ordained as a deacon in 1958, “Pops” Benjamin Deovlet was ordained as an elder in 1960, and Robert was ordained as a deacon in 1969 and as an elder in 1976.

The sons had attended nearby Redding Elementary School and Galileo High School, where they had many friends in the Japanese-American community. The association continued when they entered the business world. The Deovlets advertised solely in the Nichi Bei Times.

In 1942, when their Japanese-American neighbors were ordered to internment camps, some trusted the family so completely they asked them to store their personal belongings. The Deovlets agreed, keeping the items in locked compartments on the third floor of their building. After the war, when the Japanese-Americans returned, all items stored were safely retrieved. This service to the Japanese-American community was recognized during a Day of Remembrance candle lighting ceremony in 2003. According to Hiroshi Shimizu, a master of ceremony at the service, Phil and Bob Deovlet were honored guests. Their service to the Japanese-American community was noted and Bob was honored to light one of the 11 giant candles that symbolized each of the internment camps.

Philip Deovlet died in July 2006 at age 91. Robert died in November 2007, also at 91.